The first season of Batwoman ended on an unintentional cliffhanger after the season was cut short due to COVID-19 but, considering Ruby Rose’s departure from the show the shortened season might have given the writers and creative team some time to formulate a well thought out, equally compelling changing of the guard for the Batwoman lore. There’s a lot of pressure on Batwoman S2E1 “What Happened to Kate Kane” from the behind the scenes drama that ended the last season.
When things ended Alice had murdered her partner in crime Mouse and given Batman’s rival, Tommy, his face so that he could steal the kryptonite from Kate. Kate was still reeling, and healing mentally and physically, from a double-cross from her father who didn’t know she was in the suit. The betrayal still stung just as bad.
Things were getting really good towards the end of the first season. Between the familial and romantic drama, the action, and the LGBTQ+ representation all signs pointed to a killer season two with loads of goodies and unresolved drama to keep the show going. With the cast change and the familial bonds no longer a part of the story, most of us viewers wondered if those loose ends from the first season would get sorted out, what was going to be the bond that held everyone together or ripped them apart and what would Alice do now that she’s killed her soulmate Mouse all for a shot at revenge only to have the object of her revenge ripped away before she could kill her herself.
Goodbye, Kate: If the opening minutes of “What Happened to Kate Kane” is any indication, Kate is, in fact, dead even with the hint that she could return. Her plane from National City went down in flames and her suit has found a new owner. While there’s hope that Kate is still alive there’s a greater chance that she’s gone for good.
There’s Something About Mary: Mary is not handling losing yet another family member and is understandably starting to crumble under the weight of the pain, guilt and trauma. After her initial run in with Ryan and the subsequent voluntary return of the suit, Mary seems to be okay letting Ryan rock the suit so that some version of Kate is still around but, I’m a little concerned about the emotional fall out that’s likely to happen to her after feelings settle. Mary doing her due diligence to track down the suit realizes that she wants it to go after Alice and do the one thing that Kate couldn’t and in the process give her the vengeance that she wants as well since Alice killed her mom too.
The New Batwoman: Ryan Wilder finds Kate’s bat costume in the wreckage after failing to save a homeless man caught in the path of the crash. We get some insight into who Ryan is and the struggles that she’s going through, like losing her home and living in her car, or not being able to get a job because she can’t get a house because she is a convict, even if she was innocent. When Ryan decides to put on the suit to get a little revenge on the people who brutally beat her and got her sent to prison she realizes that putting on the cape with no understanding of the weaponry might not have been the best idea even if it was fun. Luckily, Ryan gets a second chance to do good and a place to live when she returns the bat suit. She’s just as badass as Kate was and she’s just different enough that she can fill the hole in the show while starting her own mythology.
Bad Bruce: When season one ended Alice had given Tommy her cousin Bruce’s face, since he had been missing for four years, no one questions his return when Kate’s plane goes down. I find it a little odd that Fox didn’t catch on earlier when he had to let Bruce into the batcave or when he knew things that he didn’t know. I’m still not getting why Alice and Bruce are still need the kryptonite ( and each other) or why that continued to be part of their plan after Kate was dead and they didn’t know someone new had the suit.
The Fantastic Mr. Fox: Fox has a lot going on, so much so that he missed that Bruce wasn’t Bruce. Fox is struggling with not being able to protect Kate and the guilt is wearing on him harder than it is on Mary. I’m glad they show him crying because I think that more men should cry on screen. I also love that he and Mary save Ryan from Tommy in the Bruce face when they realize that he’s after the suit now that he has the only thing, kryptonite, that can make him unstoppable.
Overall: It was a simple well-done way to introduce Ryan to the universe. I feel like she has what it takes to carry the show and move it forward even without the familial bonds that made season one so compelling. Since this episode focused mostly on set up and outlining the new threats and building bonds and trust amongst the team, I think it fulfilled its purpose. Taking away the moral ambiguity but, taking the safety off of Papa Kane’s gun by removing the will he or won’t he kill his own daughter tension should make for an interesting season. Although I love that Alice told her dad the truth about who her sister was although, with Ryan in the mix even with the evidence of Mary showing up to parlay for Batwoman, he might not even believe it. There’s a lot more that happens in this episode that made it well worth the wait but, I think it is well worth watching and enjoying so I left out a lot of the spoilers. Batwoman‘s second season starts off as a great reboot to the series and “What Happened to Kate Kane” is totally worth watching.
The show’s creative team decided to take pity upon us with “The Returned” after putting us through the emotional ringer in episode five but, they still came for us a little and toyed with our hearts. There’s a battle of the bands brewing and the latest Terror is bringing back the dead of Greendale, for better or worse. This episode was filled with equal parts camp and bittersweet sadness, taking you on an emotional roller coaster that is so satisfying, even with all that tears, that you don’t want to get off.
Camp Level 11: Satanic Panic, a band that Harvey’s dad used to play with is back from the dead and they’ve got a bone to pick with Mr. Kinkle because he ratted them out and got them burned to death in a woodshed after a possible devil’s deal. It is every 80s teen movie about those darn satanic killers in the wood mixed with a huge dose of Sometimes They Come Back. It’s a nice C story that adds a bit of fun to the rest of the episode.
Terms of Endearment: This episode has our characters coming face to face with their loved ones back from the dead but, they haven’t come to spread love but, pain and suffering and watching so many hearts get broken after everything they’ve already been through, it cuts deep, not as deep as the last episode but, I still got caught in my feels.
Overall: “The Returned” ended with a few more heartbreaks one of which I saw coming and had time to prepare for and one I didn’t see coming at all even with all the breadcrumbs that were dropped ever since one of my favorite characters entered the show! They also managed to put in a sweet moment that brings you to tears amidst all the sorrow only to have it boomerang and break your heart. This show consistently draws you in, makes you feel deep, real feelings for imaginary characters so definitely watch this episode but please, bring tissues.
The Mortal Realm: In “Deus Ex Machina“, Sabrina and Roz are co-Presidenting at Baxter High, where Nick has transferred to win OG Sabrina back. Hell is breaking through the mortal world. Lilith is hiding out at the Academy avoiding Hell and resigned to keep Adam away from hell until he 16 and can claim the throne.
The Infernal Realm: Future Sabrina is trying to clear out space in Hell because it’s overcrowding. The mortal world is breaking through to hell. Robin decides to stay with Theo and fight, instead of returning to the unaffected Fae Realm with his people because Theo refuses to go with him.
Heaven Help Us: Metatron comes down to offer a solution because every solution both sides come up with, the Sabrina’s can either kill one of them or merge. The Sabrina’s are given six hours to get their affairs in order before the merge Future Sabrina wants to spend it saying goodbye to her old friends and OG Sabrina wants to spend it with Nick.
Overall: There’s a lot of twists and turns in “Deus Ex Machina” that I left out because you have to see it to feel it and this episode was full of feels. I didn’t mention this episode’s terror because it is cosmic. Everything about “Deus Ex Machina” is heart-filled and centers upon personal sacrifices and all sorts of things that will make you cry, in fact, if you don’t cry at least twice during this episode, I will assume you have no soul or heart. There was a cute little cameo that we’ve been waiting for all season and it added a smile to my face. There’s also the heart-wrenching moment where Lilith faces the consequences of her actions and anyone with a heart feels actual sympathy for the devil. It was a lot going in expecting some simple horror camp and coming out the other end of the episode feeling emotionally drained and raw because you connected to everything that happened in the hour, that felt like more.
So It Begins: Prudence sets out to murder her father just as he mugs the third terror of his Imp of the Perverse and makes himself the supreme ruler in “The Imp of the Perverse“.
The Fright Club: In the warped reality Robin the hobgoblin gets to go full Flash, Theo gets deemed a witch for defending him, Harvey goes junior SS officer in his service to Blackwood, Roz and Sabrina have to save the Greendale in the horror camp female buddy drama that we all needed and Nick and Sabrina flirt in the face of death.
The Third Terror: The Perverse is the Archieverse version of Loki and his level of petty mischief is kind of cool, he tells Ambrose how to reverse his own horror because Blackwood tries to pull a fast one and mugs him.
Overall: “The Imp of the Perverse” is a good one that has Sabrina focusing on something other than her love life and boys. In the end, she gets Nick back in a way that complements her instead of defining her. I really liked that Sabrina and Roz got to spend some sister/BFF time saving the town and restoring things. This episode had a fun twist with a very 1984 style layout and a call to resistance and doing what is right in the face of authority and even death. Overall it knocks another terror off the list and traded the show’s usual fun time campy horror with a real cautionary tale that managed to still tie in with the way the series normally runs. This season seems very into isolating each episode and making it a good stand-alone story while still keeping it tied into the overall season arc.
Oh The Terror: In “The Weird”, we meet the weird, where they turn Sabrina into Seven of Nine level baddie because she is the strongest and the weakest. The Weird has a squid-like appearance and Borg like demeanor. They take over Greendale absorbing its science class and demanding that they all kill themselves to feed the coming Void.
Sabrina’s Love Life: So, not only is Sabrina being slowly taken over and puppetmastered by The Weird, but she also has a new boo in her life who may or not be the love Gollum she created, named Luke who she’s got a crush on. But, Nick is still in the picture more than once when she needs him, even going as far as doing a Sound of Music duet to Sixteen Going on Seventeen while Ambrose extracts The Weird from her.
Plot Twist We All Should Have Seen: From the beginning of the series I thought that it was weird that out of all the families in Greendale, the witches that were slaughtered in the town’s early days chose to curse her family. Well, it turns out Roz comes from a family of witches who denied their power and named it the cunning, and turned on the other witches because they didn’t want to be thought of as in league with the devil.
Best Scene: When two of the Kings of Hell show up to kill Lillith’s baby with the Dark Lord, the coven attacks them, murdering one and sending the other on the run by, inflicting upon them the pain of childbirth which of course the men could not handle. It was campy and glorious.
Overall: “The Weird” is another solid episode that finally focuses on Sabrina and deals with her inner turmoil and finally chooses to forget about her love life and focus on taking a breather, while still trying to stop The Terrors, on romance and focus on herself. It’s a level of self-discovery and a path towards her own personal growth as a woman, giving her agency which is something that her character has needed and deserved since the beginning,
Episode Terror: This episode’s terror is “ The Uninvited” and his special power is removing the heart of the heartless. He appears as a beggar to people and knocks at their door, murdering anyone who does not endeavor to help him or invite him in.
Best Scene: Nick tries to release the incubus from Dr. Cee so that he’s free to enjoy his wedding to Aunt Hilda but, his plan doesn’t go according to plan. The incubus is released into the wild and the whole crew is worried as the incubus hates the divine feminine and is on the hunt for a perfect male host. The newly freed incubus finds its perfect host in THEO ! The reason it is the best, perfect scene because it is a big FU to anyone who is a TERF of anti trans, in cannon Sabrina just said something that most people already knew, TRANS MEN ARE MEN! and, they let people who didn’t know that they are as well and it was refreshing and wonderful to see.
Sabrina’s Bag of Tricks: Sabrina goes all in at Hilda’s wedding during a toast to love where she flames Nick during a pity party speech. She also tries to ruin Queen of Hell Sabrina’s engagement to Caliban who despite her best efforts to rip them apart instead makes him prove his love to her future self in the most painful way,leading Sabrina to approve of the union and Underworld Sabrina to lay out that Sabrina’s real problem is that she is lonely.
The Fright Club: Roz and Harvey escape the Terror by Roz using her cunning and deciding to invite him in. Later Harvey and Roz are able to ID the terror for Ambrose and Harvey uses the drawings from his dream to identify all eight terrors giving a preview of what is to come.
Overall: Beautiful episode that includes a game of incubus wack-a-mole as the demon pops from body to body at the wedding landing inside The Uninvited himself where it not only dies but, allows the terror time to eat Dorian’s heart and start a toasted his own where he tells his origin story. Each episode so far is a fully contained story that is not only well crafted and wonderful but, builds upon the last.
When season three ended, the Fright Club and the Witches joined forces to take down the Pagans, Future Sabrina decided to take her place as a Morningstar and reign as the Queen of Hell by her father’s side while OG timeline Sabrina returned to live her life out as a Spellman. The Dark Reverend Blackwood released something called The Eldritch Terrors to get his revenge on the Spellman family, while Prudence broke Ambrose’s heart and set out into the world to mourn the loss of one sister at the hands of the other. A lot went down in the finale all of which led us to this point, where we are at the edge of our seats waiting to see what will happen next because a time paradox, like the one Sabrina surely created allowing both versions of herself from different timelines to exist simultaneously, instead of merging and restoring the timeline, had to have some unforeseen consequences. That is where we pick up for the current, just released season of The Chilling Adventures of Sabrinaand, despite this being the beginning of the end for one of my favorite campy horror shows, I couldn’t be happier to watch how it all plays out.
Where We Begin: “The Eldritch Dark” kicks off with Blackwood in a church revival tent scribbling and chanting to himself a gust of wind signals to him that the Eldritch Terrors that he released in the Season 3 finale are finally free, setting the stage for the current season and this episode. Back at the Spellman homestead, things seem to have returned to normal and Sabrina is still Nick free, he is dating Prudence after their steps of the Academy link up at the end of the last season, so she’s playing the fifth wheel with her friends and she’s missing the band and the Fright Club since life is boringly normal. A murdered homeless man outside of the mines signals something that seems like a normal crime instead of supernatural since everyone seems to have forgotten where they live. Zelda is still in charge at the academy, and dating the voodoo high priestess Marie who she fell for last season, the coven is now the order of Hecate, and Hilda is still going strong with her fiancé Dr. Cee. Ms. Vardwell is visited by Agatha who invites her to join her new “church” which she strongly considers because of her memory gaps and witchy flashbacks.
The Fright Club: Initially the gang is all there for the invented Bloody Mary excuse but, things get a bit harder when the Terrors show themselves. The first terror is a darkness that preys on fears and has set up the mines as a home base. As the Avatars of Darkness shut down the power all over the town, Fright Club stands by as Prudence, Nick, Ambrose, and Sabrina get ready to face it head-on, setting the stage for the B time and the Varsity Squad to join forces to start taking it on.
A Tale of Two Sabrinas: With nothing else going on or sparking joy in her life, Sabrina wants to visit her other self to see how things are going for her, despite Ambrose’s very real and very logical objections. To get her friends back into her life she takes Aunt Hilda’s advice and gives the Fright Club a little something to be frightful of by making blood flow in the boys’ bathroom with a little help from Salem acting as the ghost Bloody Mary. The two get to meet up to generate some light to slay the darkness it’s kind of charming and sweet watching Sabrina see what her life could have been.
Best Scene: Roz and her cunning helped her see through the trick but, she had a one on one chat with Sabrina to explain to her that they’ll always be friends and if she misses her she just has to ask to hang out. I loved this scene most of all because it was the purest, girl-powered, grown-up friendship talks that I’ve seen on a teen show.
Episode MVP: Aunt Hilda. She has stayed the course as the heart of the show. She saved Zelda from the first terror and his emotional bullying by sowing seeds of doubt on her. She was there when Sabrina needed a way to get back in with her coupled-up friends. Plus she stays the epitome of speak softly and carry a big stick and I’m always here for her.
Overall: I tried to keep this spoiler-free because I really think “The Eldritch Dark” is worth a watch. The writing, pacing, and direction set the stage and world for the current season, and if this episode is any indication this season is going to be full of heart, hope, horror, and fun and that is something to look forward to as the end of the Sabrina era comes to an end.
After last week’s trash talk ending, the long-awaited showdown between Mando and Moff Gideon has come in The Mandalorian Season 2 finale “Chapter 16: The Rescue“. Director Peyton Reed and writer Jon Favreau conclude Mando and Grogu’s quest and father/son arc nicely while setting up some tensions for upcoming seasons thanks to the return of the Mandalorians Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff) and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) and the general slipperiness of Moff Gideon. Honestly, Giancarlo Esposito’s performance is so damn entertaining as he projects menace and power while having multiple guns to his head and being in shackles. You can’t kill off a character like that yet, and The Mandalorian writers know that and show that he is even better as a master manipulator who knows everything about everyone than as a duelist.
“Chapter 16: The Rescue” opens with Slave I chasing an Imperial shuttle in flight. These ships both appeared in Return of the Jedi, and Reed and Favreau make multiple visual, verbal, and plot references to this film. This isn’t a bad thing though and comes across more as a leit-motif than fanservice with “side character” Mando (Even though Mandalorians have their own lore.) suddenly finding himself in the middle of an operatic adventure. The pursuit quickly ends in boarding with Cara Dune shooting an Imperial in the head when he taunts her about the destruction of Alderaan, and they find out the whereabouts of Grogu and Moff Gideon from Dr. Pershing, who has run experiments on the little guy to potentially clone him.
With the shuttle in hand, Boba Fett and Mando go to a bar on an refinery planet to recruit Bo-Katan and Koska to help them out. Like the previous episode in which “restore the glory of Mandalore” folks appeared, things are a bit tense between them with Bo-Katan not liking that a clone wears the armor of her people. However, they agree to join the team with the promise of getting Moff Gideon’s light cruiser after they rescue Grogu. Then, Bo-Katan goes into command mode (and Sackhoff channels a little bit of Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica) and sets up a plan where they will a fly the cruiser in the TIE fighter tube with Slave I giving chase. Then, the rest of the team will create a diversion and take the bridge of the ship while Mando stealthily recaptures Grogu. The one spanner in the works is the Dark Troopers, who kidnapped Grogu two episodes ago and are revealed by Dr. Pershing to be droids. Battle droids have definitely come a long way since the Trade Federation’s “Roger, roger” types in The Phantom Menace.
To start out, the plan goes off without a hitch, and Reed’s experience doing clever action sequences on the two Ant-Man really comes in handy as he homages the small ships take on the cruiser sequence in Return of the Jedi with Slave I taking out TIE fighters with the greatest of ease, and the best getaway driver/pilot Boba Fett taking his bow. Then, Fennec Shand, Cara, Bo-Katan, and Koska demonstrate their competence by running a gauntlet through the ship while Moff Gideon immediately calls on the Dark Troopers. Peyton Reed shoots a variety of action sequences from Ming-Na Wen demonstrating her chops and doing unarmed takedowns plus headshots as Fennec to Bo-Katan and Koska using their jetpacks to flank some hapless stormtroopers. While this is going on, Mando runs into the Dark Troopers’ cryo cells and gets physically knocked around by the one that escape his enclosure. However, his cleverness comes in handy, and he ends up besting the Dark Trooper by mixing a flamethrower with an oxygen tube and then a spear to the head while letting the rest
Mando makes it to the brig, and of course, runs into Moff Gideon holding the Darksaber over Grogu. They chat for a bit, and Gideon explains the Darksaber’s significance. (It’s basically the Excalibur of Mandalore.) Mando doesn’t care about the Darksaber and just wants Grogu so they decide to go their separate ways until, of course, Moff Gideon stabs in the back. What ensues is an epic Darksaber on Beskar spear duel with Pedro Pascal demonstrating the spear fighting moves he picked up while playing Oberyn Martell (RIP) in Game of Thrones. Because he’s a good guy, Mando disarms Gideon, puts him in chains, rescues Grogu, and hauls him up to the bridge where Moff Gideon is super-manipulative about the Darksaber. He basically says that Bo-Katan has to defeat Mando in combat to get the weapon and be a true candidate to the throne of Mandalore. While this is going on, the Dark Troopers come back from space, and Moff Gideon tries to escape and shoots at Bo-Katan, but is physically incapacitated by Cara Dune before he can put a bullet in his brain for the glory of the empire.
Even after this failure, Moff Gideon is still gloating about how he and Grogu will be the only ones to survive the Dark Trooper assault when a single X-Wing flies into the ship. Grogu’s little ears perk up, and he turns to the monster and watches a hooded figure with a lightsaber take out the Dark Troopers showing that his meditation on Tython paid off. Peyton Reed does an homage to the Darth Vader hallway scene in Rogue One by shooting a tight, close-up of the Jedi skillfully taking out the Dark Troopers. When the Jedi reaches the bridge, everyone except Mando is wary as he removes his hood and reveals himself to be none other, but Luke Skywalker (A CGI de-aged Mark Hamill). Luke, Grogu, and Mando have a chat with Grogu asking for Mando’s permission to go with him. In a touching moment, Mando removes his helmet and lets Grogu touch his face before he goes off to get training with Luke and R2-D2 in a reversal of his scenes with Yoda in Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. This is the end of the episode, but there’s a cool post-credits scene where Boba Fett and Fennec raid Jabba the Hutt’s palace with Fett shooting Bib Fortuna in the head and then sitting on Jabba’s throne setting up a new show in December 2021 called the Book of Boba Fett.
“Chapter 16: The Rescue” is a really exciting ensemble action episode with Jon Favreau giving each member of Mando’s “impressive fire team” a different motivation for being on the mission while still having them be utter badasses except when Cara’s big gun jams. They end up rescuing Grogu and taking over Moff Gideon’s light cruiser, but Favreau makes it clear that they’re not all BFFs as evidenced by their different responses to Luke coming in at the end. (The Jedi are the ancient enemies of the Mandalorians.) Also, Boba Fett gets treated really badly by Bo-Katan and Koska at the bar, who are still doing the sales pitch about re-taking Mandalore, and thankfully, their self-interest and Mando’s intersect for this episode. In the bridge scene, Katee Sackhoff plays off Giancarlo Esposito really well when he talks about her actually having to defeat Mando in combat, and her usually confident, quippy self is quiet for once. There are whole plotlines waiting to happen in that silence.
Even though Luke Freaking Skywalker shows up, and for the first time in live action Star Wars, we get to see him in his prime and not as a learner or old man, it’s Giancarlo Esposito’s performance as Moff Gideon that will stick with me the most. From the get-go, there is a calmness to his line delivery as he overrides his flailing subordinates and sends out TIE fighters to fight Slave I. There’s a glimpse where you can tell that he knows the ship is pulling its punches, and that the Imperial shuttle isn’t a friendly so he immediately gives the order for the Dark Troopers. Even imprisoned, Moff Gideon is a matter of sowing discord between allies as evidenced by his earlier remarks about the Darksaber. Also, Esposito does a good job of making everything seem like it’s all part of the plan with Grogo being of no use to him because Gideon and his scientists already extracted a blood sample. He is best for now, but Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed understand they have an interesting villain on their hands: part fascist fanatic (“glory of the empire”/the almost suicide) and part cool chess player so they keep him alive for now.
I guess that it’s time to talk about the Luke Skywalker reveal. It definitely seems like aDeus Ex Machina because the episode has shown that without his Beskar that Mando would have been killed by one Dark Trooper (Who get a catchy dubstep theme from Ludwig Goransson), and he and his team would have been annihilated by a platoon. However, the scene is payoff for Grogu’s actions on Tython as well as his and Mando’s interactions with Ahsoka Tano with there needing to be some kind of Jedi or Jedi-adjacent character showing up for Grogu to choose to either train with the Force or just hang out with Mando some more. Plus there’s this season’s overarching plot of Mando returning Grogo to his people (While also kind of having a reunion with his too via Boba Fett, Koska, and Bo-Katan.) so there needed to be a reveal like this to have a satisfying end to his journey.
However, I have a slight criticism of Luke’s appearance in “Chapter 16: The Rescue” other than the wonkiness of the de-aging CGI. (It’s less creepy that bringing back the deceased Peter Cushing for Rogue One.) One of the great parts of The Mandalorian, especially in Season One, was that it was finally a Star Wars story not about the Skywalker line with Mando and Grogu going on Lone Wolf and Cub-style adventures around the galaxy and commenting on the post-Second Death Star destruction turmoil. However, Jon Favreau couldn’t help himself and connected Mando to this larger story and legacy, which is honestly par for the course with familiar Clone Wars and Original Trilogy characters like Bo-Katan, Ahsoka Tano, and Boba Fett popping up this season.
It definitely makes some of the fans happy, and it’s interesting to see the different flavors of Mandalorian when Mando, Fett, Bo-Katan, and Koska interact, but it also shows that Star Wars still isn’t 100% interested in getting out of this Skywalker shadow as shown by J.J. Abrams undoing all of Rian Johnson’s work to break the cycle of Hero’s Journey and just retell old stories in Rise of Skywalker. Thankfully, Favreau and his writing room are better storytellers than Abrams and set up the Luke reveal via Grogu’s actions and interactions in previous episodes instead of announcing Palpatine’s return via Fortnite. There is also a real sweetness to Grogu and Luke’s interactions with Peyton Reed shooting from Gogu’s POV as he meets and hits it off with R2-D2 as the astromech droid helps calm him and begin to heal his Purge-induced trauma. Of course, they have to be friends.
Speaking of friendship, Jon Favreau and Peyton Reed do make the cathartic move of having the last moments of the season finale be interactions between Mando and Grogu. There’s a minimal dialogue (“I’ll see you again” is nice.), and Reed squarely places the camera on Pedro Pascal’s helmetless face as he lets Grogu be one of the first people in years to touch his face because they’re really just a couple of foundlings out in a great, big galaxy. There’s a real sadness/your kid going off to college or some educational institution vibe to this scene, and it also shows that Mando has grown with a character as he has forsaken the apparently fanatical (According to Bo-Katan earlier this season.) ways of his Mandalorian offshoot to have a real connection with Grogu. He takes the helmet of his own free will instead of doing it for pragmatic reasons like in the previous episode, and it demonstrates real growth. I’m definitely going to miss Mando and Grogu’s interactions and hope they truly do get to meet again down the road.
“Chapter 16: The Rescue” has multiple fun setpieces from Mandalorian jetpack on stormtrooper action to Mando dueling both Moff Gideon and a Dark Trooper and finally, Luke Skywalker mowing down battle droids like his father before him in a similarly shot manner. However, its use of the Skywalker saga as a safety valve aside, it features an eye-catching and unsettling performance by Giancarlo Esposito as Moff Gideon, nails those emotional beats between Mando and Grogu even if they don’t share a lot of screen time, and wraps up his quest storyline in a satisfying way. Finally, it also sets up future tension between Mando and the other Mandalorians, and the episode’s stinger shows a tantalizing glimpse at Boba Fett and Fennec Shand starring in their own show.
The penultimate episode of The MandalorianSeason 2 does do its job and sets up the final confrontation between Mando and Moff Gideon. However, “Chapter 15: The Believer” is also a damn good anti-imperialist, anti-fascist heist story from writer/director Rick Famuyiwa. Famuyiwa is most well known for his 2015 indie dramedy Dope, but he also directed “Chapter 6: The Prisoner” from the previous season of The Mandalorian that was about a heist go wrong and introduced the ex-Imperial sharpshooter and general smartass/asshole Mayfeld (Bill Burr). This episode acts as a companion to that episode and continues/wraps up Mayfeld’s arc while also kind of being a heist gone right story. It definitely seems more like a Mandalorian Season 1 episode with more of a focus on what life is like after the fall of the Empire and during the rise of the New Republic instead of adding Jedi/animated series lore even though Boba Fett is one hell of a getaway driver.
Famuyiwa kicks off “The Believer” with some grim, handheld shots of prisoners doing the equivalent of turning big rocks into smaller rocks, which is making TIE fighter wrecks into smaller wrecks. Without a word of explanation, Cara Dune uses her powers as a Marshal of the New Republic to recruit Mayfeld to help find Moff Gideon’s ship where Grogu is being held because he still has Imperial credentials. Not much can be worse than Mayfeld’s current situation, but it gets worse when he sees he’ll be on this mission with Mando, who left him to be arrested by the New Republic in the previous season. The crew of Dune, Mando, Mayfeld, Boba Fett, and Fennec Shand go to the mining planet of Morak, which has an Imperial base and more importantly an Imperial terminal where Mayfeld can find the location of Gideon’s cruiser.
What follows is a typical heist setup with Mando and Mayfeld hijacking a mining vehicle carrying rhydonium, an explosive mineral used to make weapons of mass destruction while Cara Dune and Fennec provide sniper support and Boba Fett and Slave I stand by for extraction. Even though they hate each other, Mando ends up riding in the vehicle with Mayfeld because he’s the only crew member not wanted by the Imperial Security Bureau. (Or the template for Clone troopers in a wryly delivered line from Temuera Morrison.) What follows is a study in microaggressions as Burr (Honestly playing himself.) gives Mando crap for taking off his Beskar armor and replacing it with Shoretrooper armor, talking about how the New Republic and Empire are basically the same for most folks in the galaxy. Famuyiwa drives this point home by having a long, lingering shot of the indigenous inhabitants of Morak and reminding viewers that despite all the corporatization and IP strip mining, Star Wars is a really a story about imperialism and interventionism with five of the six George Lucas films coming out during the Cold War and War on Terror.
But Rick Famuyiwa also knows when to make Mayfeld shut the hell up as he does Speed with a Star Wars spin. If Mayfeld drives too fast (He’s definitely one of those guys who always goes 20 over on the highway.), the rhydonium goes boom. Plus there are pirates with thermal detonators, and Mando’s Imperial-made blaster runs out of bolts pretty quickly so he has to use his spear fighting and close combat skills to ward them off. Thankfully (?), some Imperial TIE fighters and stormtroopers finish off the remaining pirates, and Mando and Mayfeld are greeted with cheers by the garrison. All they have to do is go to the terminal in the officer Easy, peasy, pumpkin pie.
But, of course, it’s not that easy as Mayfeld recognizes his old commanding officer, Valin Hess (A frightening Richard Brake) in the mess hall. So, Mando ends up sacrificing his personal beliefs for the greater good of rescuing Grogu and removes his helmet so the terminal will work and get the information on Gideon’s ship. This is followed by a really gross interaction with Hess, who doesn’t recognize Mayfeld, and tries to make Mando say his Stormtrooper callsign. However, they end up getting drinks thanks to their transport being the only one to get through that day. There is more discomfort as Mayfeld basically grows a spine and confronts Hess for his actions that got 10,000 Imperial soldiers killed. Hess brushes this off and goes into a fascist diatribe about how people want “order”, not freedom.
This leads to Mayfeld shooting Hess in the head and a really intense fire fight as stealth goes out the window, and there’s a mad scramble to the roof and the extraction point. But this situation allows Fennec, Cara Dune, and especially Boba Fett to demonstrate what cool customers they are as they skillfully take out cannons, troopers, and even a couple TIE fighters in the end. Mayfeld also demonstrates his redemption as he goes from saluting Imperial officers and thinking that “Oh, the Empire wasn’t so bad.” to shooting the rhydonium stores so that the Empire can’t terrorize other planets. This shot leads Dune letting him go free on Morak while everyone else gets ready to confront Moff Gideon.
Helmet on or off, “The Believer” features some of Pedro Pascal‘s best acting of the season as he truly shows the discomfort he feels when he has to take off his Mandalorian armor and helmet. In most situations, he’s quick with a dry one-liner or a blaster, but he is almost speechless in the presence of Hess. Pascal plays against type and is almost anti-charismatic even though he is still quite pretty. He just wants to complete the task and get out of there and has no grasp of Imperial hierarchies and protocols. Thankfully, Mayfeld is there to do what he and Bill Burr do best: talk bullshit. There is a loose, almost improvised manner to the way that Burr delivers his lines about past campaigns and concocts a backstory for Mando being hard of hearing, and it shows that he might just be a little appreciative that Mando stuck his neck out for him to go to the terminal. They’re definitely not buddies, but at the end of the episode, Mayfeld has respect for Mando and his beliefs and practices and even turns his body away from Mando when he puts the Shoretrooper helmet back on.
The scene where the TIE fighters and legions of stormtroopers come in and mow down the pirates is one of the most thought provoking in recent Star Wars memory with Rick Famuyiwa adding to the derangement with a slow tracking shots of salutes, clapping, and back pats as Mando and Mayfeld successfully deliver their cargo of civilian casualty batter. This combined with the Imperial officers basically hanging out in the break room humanizes them and creates a kind of “banality of evil” effect that is quickly ripped to shreds when Hess reminds us that Imperials are truly monsters, who don’t care about things like civilian casualties, only power, order, and control like they have over Morak with their big base and TIE fighters and battalions.
Famuyiwa makes a good parallel between American imperialism and foreign policy and the Empire in “The Believer”. As Slave I descends into Morak, there’s a wide shot that shows it’s a nice little forest planet not unlike our previous indigenous resistance metaphor planet, Endor. However, Morak also has rhydonium (I.e. oil in the Middle East), which makes it valuable to the Empire’s efforts at re-establishing itself so it gets ruled with an iron fist. And it’s also the reason that those shipments keep getting hit. Rick Famuyiwa keeps the personalities of the pirates pretty ambiguous and doesn’t pass judgment on if they’re terrorists or freedom fighters.
This storytelling decision makes sense because ambiguity and grey areas seem to be the status quo of The Mandalorian where devout bounty hunters become father figures who are willing to compromise, mercenaries become cops that are okay with bending the rules occasionally, and Imperial snipers join whatever Morak’s version of #resistance is. It shows humans aren’t fixed in their ways, and that change is truly possible while shedding the Manichaean dualism of the Star Wars original trilogy. “The Believer” explores these dichotomies and contradictions in a suspenseful manner as Famuyiwa creates tension through both dialogue and action. Honestly, I was more stressed (and proud) when Mayfeld was confronting Hess for his actions as a commander during the Galactic Civil War than during the ensuing shoot out, which is basically a style plate for how competent and badass Mando’s crew/found family is, and why Moff Gideon is screwed next episode.
Even though there are no lightsabers, flashy namedroppers, and Boba Fett is just the getaway driver (Which is still pretty damn awesome), Rick Famuyiwa turns in the most thought-provoking and tense episode of The Mandalorian Season 2 yet with “The Believer”. Heuses the canvas of the Star Wars universe to comment on fascism and imperialism. He gives Mayfeld a three-dimensional story arc and lands some huge moments for Mando’s journey thanks to a heart-rending and vulnerable performance from Pedro Pascal. Plus he pulls off one hell of a chase scene!
Because of restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic, writer/director/creator Sam Levinson gets creative and crafts an episode of Emmy-Award winning show Euphoriathat is stripped down of its usual visual, costuming/makeup, and musical flair. “Rue” begins with a dream sequence of Rue (Zendaya) living her ideal life with Jules (Hunter Schafer) complete with lots of kissing, cute conversations, and not having to sneak out of the window because Jules is in art college, and they share an apartment. However, reality floods in as Rue snorts pills and relapses. This leads to her meeting with her sponsor Ali (Colman Domingo) at a diner on Christmas Eve. They talk for the remaining 50 minutes of the episode about life, addiction, loss, their families, faith, and “real shit” until he gives her a ride home in the rain while Euphoria composer Labrinth sings a gorgeous cover of “Ave Maria” that is definitely going on the holiday playlist.
“Rue” reveals that Euphoria has a hell of a lot of substance underneath. Domingo is a veteran theatre actor, and he and Zendaya embody the old adage that “acting is reacting” in this episode. Because she is high, Zendaya plays Rue in a heightened way at the beginning of the dinner as she slurs her way through talking about how she’s a functioning addict. However, Ali is a great listener, asks good questions, and finds out that when Rue does drugs, she doesn’t want to kill herself. He responds to this with empathy about addiction is a disease, and that while some people want to keep folks like them out of sight and mind, that he knows what she’s been through. Ali even reveals to Rue that he has been clean for seven years, not 20 telling her that he had a relapse after being clean for 13 years.
Sam Levinson doesn’t really play any of the dinner between them for melodrama, but Zendaya’s delivery becomes a little less flat as they launch into a fascinating conversation about the role of faith and a higher power in Narcotics Anonymous. Levinson does a great job connecting both Ali and Rue’s current life situations to the larger world around them in a more organic way than, say, Euphoria’s pilot, which strung together Rue’s birth, the beginning of the universe, and 9/11 in a frenetic opening sequence. Ali is a devout Muslim, which Rue finds out when she wonders why he said his name used to be Martin in a quick bit of comic relief before she sarcastically defines “higher power” as something in nature or an Otis Redding. But the real reason that she doesn’t want to believe in God or a higher power is because of her father’s death because she’s tired of hearing survivors of tragic events say that God “saved them for a reason” when her dad had the purpose of raising her and her younger sister.
This scene hits a real emotional vein and also exhibits Ali’s emotional intelligence as he kiboshes the religious angle and gives a stirring, almost in character monologue about the life of Malcolm X and the Civil Rights movement. He wraps it up with a personal anecdote about Nike’s “Our Lives Matter”, and how they co-opted the Black Lives Matter movement and the work of activists like Colin Kaepernick to sell expensive shoes made by Chinese Muslim slaves. Domingo’s passion comes out in this dialogue, and Levinson crafts a study in contrasts between him and Rue, who is too busy dealing with the shit in her own life and how she can’t forgive herself, to pursue activism or revolution, which he says is “spiritual”.
And this “busyness” flows nicely into their side conversation with Miss Marsha (Marsha Gambles), who shares Gambles’ own story of recovering from addiction and being clean from 17 years while telling Rue (Who got a “Miss you” text from Jules while Ali smoked and called his daughter, Imani) that she needs to focus on her sobriety before getting into a relationship. And speaking of relationships, the chat that Ali and Rue have about her relationship with Jules shows a tiny bit of a generation/communication gap as Rue thought she was exclusively dating Jules because they kissed a lot, said they loved each other, and wanted to get matching inside lip tattoos. However, they didn’t have an actual conversation about their relationship status and instead reveled in the messiness, which can be fun, but usually ends in heartbreak and drama like Jules getting on a train and leaving Rue behind at 1 AM. Storywise, it’s really satisfying to have Rue open up about how she feels about Jules and the connection to her addiction to a third party that is unaware of the utterly fucked up reality of her high school. (See everything about the whole Nate Jacobs situation.)
One of my favorite parts of “Rue” is the “interlude” I mentioned earlier where Rue listens to the thematically relevant “Me in 20 Years” by Moses Sumney and sees a text from Jules while Ali goes outside and tries to reconnect with his daughters (Who Rue asked about earlier) while taking a smoke break. This short scene does a good job of fleshing their characters as Rue retreats to the sanctuary of her music, and Ali tries to show his daughters that he’s a good person even though they witnessed him assaulting their mother when he was high in the past. Rue is at the stage of her life and addiction where she just wants to retreat and try to feel good for her last few years while Ali is trying to make amends. Colman Domingo really nails both sadness and emotional honesty in this scene, and this grief is why they have a strong connection and “like talking to each other” like they both say towards the end of the episode.
With clear shots of both Rue and Ali’s faces, Sam Levinson shows that this isn’t just a polite truism, but they actually like having someone that they can basically empty all their darkest thoughts, saddest feelings, and sometimes, brightest hopes around. They are both characters that are not into bullshit (Unless Rue is skirting a talk about her addiction.) and small talk, and this episode reveals this in a beautiful way with some lived-in performances from Domingo and Zendaya. Levinson also shows detractors that Euphoria isn’t just a flashbang show meant to scare mommy blogs and pearl clutchers, but is deeply invested in the emotional lives of its characters.
In “Rue”, Sam Levinson doesn’t lump Rue’s relapse with a dozen other plots, but he puts it into full, bloody focus. This allows viewers to understand the nature of her addiction, and how it personally affects her and her relationships with her family, Jules, and yes, Ali. Zendaya’s delivery and scrunched up facial expressions enhance this intense character study (Give her a second Emmy already!), and I’m intrigued to see how Euphoria Season 2 explores her addiction, depression, emotions, and relationships.